Inside HID Awolowo’s business empire: ‘I organised her day-to-day activities’-Bunmi Akinwunmi Dickson,  Mama’s former Private Secretary

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For how long did you work with Mama as her Personal Assistant?

I was with Mama for three years between November 1990 to October 1993.  I was her private secretary.

What was it like working with Mama?

It was interesting.  Just like a grandson working with his grandmother.  Mama was a mother but she was a disciplinarian.  She was a very strict person and very business-like.  We resumed and worked for long hours.  There was no closing time until Mama slept around 9.30 p.m.  She watches television between 6.30 to 9.30 p.m.  When she moves into her room, someone will now signal that we can now go.  That is how it was from Monday to Sunday.

Were you living with her then?

I was not living with her but my house was very close to hers, Ajina Street, Ikenne.

What exactly do you do as Mama’s Private Secretary?

I organize her day to day activities.  Mama was receiving a lot of visitors such as politicians, businessmen, bankers, investors that come from near and far away.  Before you could see Mama except for few people, people like late Ooni Sijuwade, Tribune management staff, Chief G. O. K. Ajayi, the Awoists like Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Professor Akinkugbe, Professor Akin Mabogunje – those are the few people that don’t need to book appointments before seeing Mama.  We have to manage Mama’s time as soon as she wakes up around 8.30 a.m till 9.30 p.m that she goes into her room to sleep.

We also manage Mama’s staff and give her daily report of what is going on in the compound.  Most times, Mama will call me to ask me who is coming to see me today?  Who and who are we expecting tomorrow?

Most weekends we are always very busy.  She attends to different people and on Sunday, she goes to church.  After church, people start to troop in again.  We are always on the move.

I also write her speeches.  The ones I couldn’t write, the editors of Tribune like Biodun Oduwole and Folu Olamiti will have to write it.  Then, I will type it for Mama.

How big is Mama’s business empire?

Mama was the head of Dideolu Estate, chairperson of Dideolu Specialist Hospital, Dideolu Stores for drinks, cement, etc.  She was also the chairman of African Newspapers Nigeria Limited, publishers of Tribune Newspapers.

How will you describe Mama?

Mama was a mother to all, a political strategist.  She controlled an empire of intellectuals, people like Bola Ige, GOK Ajayi.  Mama was always calling them to get advice from them.  They too come to Mama to seek her opinion or advice on issues.  There is also Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, whose members are prominent members of Nigeria society.

It was fantastic working with Mama.  She was cool-headed.  Though a disciplinarian, she’s one with a forgiving spirit.  No offence that Mama will not forgive you the moment you say you are sorry, except of course, stealing.  In terms of discipline, give it to her.  She did not tolerate laziness or lateness in anyway.

Mama was very hard working.  Believe it or not, Mama also has some sense of humour that she teased us with every time.  She was also very prayerful.  She was always praying for us.

– Interviews by TOLANI ABATTI

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